The Torryburn witch

Face of 18th-Century Torryburn Witch Revealed in Digital Reconstruction

The face of a Scottish woman accused of witchcraft has been revealed 313 years after her death.
The digitally reconstructed face of Lilias Adie, the Torryburn witch
The digitally reconstructed face of Lilias Adie

Lilias Adie confessed to witchcraft and sex with the devil, but she died in prison in 1704 before she could be burned at the stake. Now, thanks to BBC Radio Scotland’s Time Travels and researchers at the University of Dundee, her face has been digitally reconstructed and revealed for the first time.

Adie was buried on the beach of the south west Fife coast in the muck between the high and low tide. A large stone slab was placed over her grave to prevent the devil from donning her rotting corpse and cavorting about having sex with witches.

There she was forgotten for over a hundred years until some locals in the late 19th century dug her up to sell pieces of her to local antiquarians.

Her skull went to St Andrews University Museum, where it was eventually lost. But not before it could be photographed. Dr Christopher Rynn used these photos to create the digital replica used in the facial reconstruction.

Read more the project right here

The grave of Lilias Adie, the Torryburn Witch
The grave of Lilias Adie discovered in 2014

In 2014 researchers rediscovered the grave of the Torryburn witch.

The occult oddities of Calvin von Crush

Inside the Macabre Personal Museum of Occult Collector Calvin Von Crush

A look at Calvin Von Crush’s morbid collection of rare occult and paranormal history, human remains, and grotesque freaks of nature.

In the latest from The Midnight Archive, filmmaker Ronni Thomas explores the amazing and bizarre occult collection of Calvin Von Crush.

“As an atheist and skeptic,” Crush says, “I’m in awe at the power people give to lifeless objects no matter how innocent or macabre they may be.”

Crush, a full-time tattoo artist, has spent years scouring dark nooks and crannies for rare pieces of occult and paranormal history. A director of the Talking Board Historical Society, he has amassed an impressive collection of vintage spirit boards, but it doesn’t end there. His TBHS profile says, “Ouija boards are just a segment of his massive horde of pieces related to the occult and paranormal history. His apartment is also home to a number of freak animals in jars, taxidermy from far-away lands, and pieces of people that lived long ago.”

Occult collector Calvin Von Crush
Calvin Von Crush with an articulated human skeleton from his collection

Crush recently completed a renovation to convert part of his home into his own personal museum.

“I share my home with a real human head shrunk down to the size of a baseball, countless antique photos manipulated through trickery and passed off as dead loved ones, dozens upon dozens of wooden boards with the alphabet on their surface that are thought to open doors to the other side and let spirits guide our hands to messages. Even the skeleton of a murdered Parisian prostitute named Monique and nearly 50 freak animal specimens of varying levels or grotesque deformity call this creepy crypt home.”

Watch this walk-through for a glimpse inside:

Crush has practically built a temple to what some may consider dark energy, but he doesn’t experience anything supernatural.

“Not once has anything ever bumped in the night,” Crush says. “No ghoul or ghost has ever come knocking, but my door is forever open and the spirit, pun intended, is always willing.”

For more, you can find Crush and other collectors profiled in Morbid Curiosities: Collections of the Uncommon and the Bizarre.

Weekend Weird Halloween Edition

Weekend Weird Halloween Edition

Celebrate the thinning of the veil with Ouija boards, witches, and other nameless horrors in this week’s conjuring of spooky weird news and media.

Before we get to the this week’s weird news and media, which is great, by the way – a coffin robber, Robert Murch’s incredible Ouija board collection, the grotesque literary death of Lovecraft, Salem revelations, and more – let’s take a moment to round up some of the Halloween favorites here on Cult of Weird:

And now this week’s other weird news and media:
Weird news

The history of the notorious Nuremberg torture collection

Peek inside a trove of witchcraft artifacts at this rare exhibit

Eight things you need to know about poltergeists

A glimpse at Robert Murch’s talking board collection

Be part of Milwaukee’s first ever Krampusnacht parade

Animated Halloween short: Zombie vs the Living Dead

Horror author Michael McDowell’s death collection (from 2013)

Shelley AI is creating horror stories through human-AI collaboration

In the U.S. market for human bodies, almost anyone can dissect and sell the dead

What does Uri Geller know about the JFK assassination?

Man banned from open casket funerals after looting corpse

Is your house haunted or is it just bad wiring?

How the god you worship influences the ghosts you see

Robert Bloch killed his friend H.P. Lovecraft in his 1935 story The Shambler from the Stars

Caitlin Doughty on new revelations from the Salem Witch Trials

Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology

The mysterious James John Eldred house

Ghostwatch: the Halloween hoax that changed the language of television

The destruction of Wisconsin’s haunted Summerwind mansion may have been arson

Humans are born with a natural fear of spiders and snakes

Last year’s paranormal writing contest conjured up some brilliant scary stories

Are you descended from witches?

It’s alive! The birth of Frankenstein

Remember these? 10 forgotten Halloween specials

Beastly births, ass-popes and satanic hybrids: Creepy 16th-century woodcuts

The voice behind many bestselling books on tape is actually a serial killer

Cult of Weird Community on Instagram

Tag your oddities and adventures #cultofweird to be featured!

Tallmadge family graves in Rienzi Cemetery
The final resting place of the Tallmadge family

William Tallmadge, the son of brief Wisconsin Territory governor Nathaniel Potter Tallmadge, was just 19 years old when he died on June 12, 1845. He was buried upon the top of a hill on his family’s land known as Rienzi Hill.

Possibly spurred by this loss, Nathaniel found solace in the beliefs and practices of spiritualism.

Many of Nathaniel’s experiences communicating with the dead through various mediums were recorded in the 1853 book Spiritualism, Volume 1. He wrote that his youngest daughter, then 13, “plays the piano on the instruction of the spirits.” She had never played piano before in her life and had no understanding of notes, he claimed, until one day she sat down at the keys and played Beethoven’s Grand Waltz.

The same year Spiritualism was published, Tallmadge donated the hill and the surrounding eight and a half acres of his farm for use as a public cemetery. Since then, Rienzi has become the final resting place of Civil War generals, senators, congressmen, athletes, musicians, and, depending on who you ask…witches.

Weird Book of the Week

The Ghastling
The Ghastling brings together a fresh collection of new horror stories from contemporary authors, combined with eerie illustrations in the style of 19th-century penny dreadfuls or Weird Tales magazines. Book Six “explores the uncanny, the surreal, the dark reaches of the imagination and the space between the ordinary world and the folklore and superstition that hangs around in the peripheries of daily life. In the case of some of these tales, there is almost no difference, both worlds are one and the same.”

More: 2017 Fall Reading List

Stranger Things Ouija board

If anyone needs me, I’ll be binging the second season of Stranger Things while eating waffles and trying to conjure a demogorgon from the Upside Down.

Nurenberg torture collection

The History of the Notorious Nuremberg Torture Collection

With some 1,300 artifacts from Europe’s brutal past, the Nuremberg torture collection was the largest of it’s kind.
London antique dealer Peter Dale with the Nuremberg torture collection
London antique dealer Peter Dale with the Nuremberg torture collection, from the October 1967 issue of Men Only magazine

Torture was abolished in Germany in the early 1800s with the realization that many of the accused had confessed to crimes they didn’t commit in order to end their suffering. But in the 300 years prior, torture throughout Europe had been elevated to an art form. Innumerable methods had been devised to inflict the most pain possible while extracting confessions or doling out punishments.

Lesser offenses, like perjury, having a child out of wedlock, or being a shrew, called for scold’s bridles and branks, stockades, yokes, or collars. More serious offenses such as parricide, infidelity, blasphemy, murder, and, of course, witchcraft, called for more serious measures. For these offenses, the most sadistic devices were crafted. The Pear of Anguish, for example, was inserted into the mouth and then cranked open. Copper boots were designed to be worn by the accused while hot oil was poured into them. The ladder and the Fearful Eliza were designed to stretch the accused and wrench limbs from their joints.

But when these menacing implements were no longer in use, a large collection was amassed at the Royal Castle of Nuremberg. The notorious Iron Maiden, a 15th-century invention unique to Nuremberg that researchers believe was never actually used, had been on display there for many years. When torture was outlawed, the Iron Maiden was accompanied by the addition of executioner’s swords, branding irons, flagellants, manacles, gallows rope, tongue-tearers, Spanish boots and gaiters for crushing the feet and shin bones, iron spiders for ripping flesh, and numerous other long-standing methods of condemning the accused.

Iron bed torture device
From the collection, an illustration of Robert-François Damien, who attempted to assassinate French king Louis XV in 1757. Damien was strapped to an iron bed to prevent him from committing suicide before he could be tried and executed, and also so he could be tortured without being removed from his restraints. He bit off his own tongue hoping he would bleed to death. His teeth were pulled to prevent any further incidence.

The collection also included other peculiar artifacts, such as witches’ charms and idols, the mummified head of an executed child murderess, and a model of the castle that belonged to accused witch Agnes Bernauer, who was drowned in the Danube in 1435.

In the 19th century, no trip to Bavaria was complete without a stop at the Nuremberg castle to glimpse the very depths of human cruelty. And a visit to the shops, of course, where travelers could buy miniature souvenir Iron Maidens to remember their trip by.

Cover of the Nuremberg Torture Collection exhibition souvenir catalog
Nuremberg Torture Collection illustrated souvenir catalog from the 1893 New York exhibition

In 1890 the entire 1,300-item collection, which included prints, engravings, rare books and other centuries-old documents, was purchased by Charles Henry John Chetwynd-Talbot, England’s “Premier Earl” of Shrewsbury and Talbot. The original Iron Maiden remained at the castle (where it was destroyed when the castle was bombed in 1944) but a replica was produced for the Earl. He packed everything up and sent it on tour.

The collection made it’s way around Great Britain, then came to the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Awed crowds wondered at the miracle of Nikola Tesla’s light, and rode the world’s first Ferris Wheel, then gazed in horror and fascination at the barbaric display of real instruments of torture, each with it’s own bloody history.

When the exposition closed that October, the collection went on to New York where it was shown at a building renovated specifically to display the torture devices. A printed souvenir book which detailed the use of every item noted, “The entire collection was removed from the Royal Castle of Nuremberg, in April, 1890, since which time it has been exhibited in all the principal cities of Great Britain by special permission of Lord Shrewsbury. It is the original and only genuine collection of its kind, and what adds to the impressiveness of the exhibition is the fact that every one of the barbarous implements have been in actual use.”

When the exhibit was over, the collection remained in storage in New York until a man named Robert Abels purchased it in 1964. Four years later, in March of 1968, the collection hit the auction block at Sotheby’s and was dispersed.

Peter Dale examines the Iron Maiden, from the October 1967 issue of Men Only magazine

Over the next seven years, a Norwegian holocaust survivor named Arne Coward, who owned a small antique shop in Waikiki, tracked down and purchased most (if not all) of the collection and brought it together again in his home.

“At one time,” the Reading Eagle reported in 1975, “Coward had a bone-crushing wheel standing at the foot of his bed, not far from a spiked torture chair. With a dozen or so beheading swords close by and an ample supply of miscellaneous cutlery, it made a cozy chamber for reading some of his 1,300 books on torture.”

“In every person there is a desire to strangle and maim and thrash,” Arne said of the fascination with the items in his collection. “They don’t do it, but they’d like to.”

That year Coward opened his Museum Macabre, marking the first time the pieces were on public display since the New York exhibition closed in 1894. When he died in 1979, the collection was sent to a warehouse in California, where a broker was trying to sell it for Coward’s estate. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attempted to purchase it, but didn’t value it quite as high as the asking price.

Ten years later, in 1989, they did manage to purchase several key items. Among them, though it was not part of the Nuremberg collection, was an unidentified anatomical specimen which was later discovered to be the severed head of serial killer Peter Kurten.

The dissected head of German serial killer Peter Kurten
The severed head of the Dusseldorf Vampire, Peter Kurten

In 2009, what remained of history’s most notorious torture collection wound up on the auction block again. This time it was at Guernsey’s in New York, under the care of Arlan Ettinger. The collection, according to Ettinger, was still in the hands of Coward’s descendants. However, it was no longer complete.

“The 252 devices include iron masks, boots, thumbscrews, foot squeezers, ropes, leg irons, chains, rings, manacles and ‘witch-catchers,'” Richard Pyle wrote for the Associated Press. “Notably absent is what the Times in 1893 called the ‘justly-celebrated iron maiden,’ a coffin-like case with deadly spikes on the inside. Ettinger said the fate of the iron maiden and other items is unknown but they may have been lost in a fire that destroyed many buildings at the end of the Chicago world’s fair.”

Since that auction, at least a few of the items from the original Nuremberg torture collection have turned up on ebay.

“As we look through this collection,” the 1893 New York exhibition catalogue read, “we see that neither tender youth, weak old age, delicate female, or ailing man was spared its horrors or its shame. And we cannot be too thankful to think we live in an age where more enlightened and humanitarian principles prevail.”

An engraving from the Nuremburg torture collection showing a man being stretched and flayed alive
An engraving from the collection showing a man being stretched and flayed alive

For more on Ripley’s involvement with the collection, watch the fascinating first episode of filmmaker John Borowski’s Serial Killer Culture TV on Amazon.

Spider vs the Living Dead

Spider vs The Living Dead

Two terrifying, flesh-craving beasts. Who will win? Watch this stop-motion animated short to find out.